Monday, June 7, 2010

7 Tips to Taking Better Photos of Landscaping Jobs

By Sarah Neal / Senior Web Designer & Professional Photographer

Graphic D-Signs Inc. is famous for our landscaping marketing. Over the years we've had thousands of photos submitted to us of landscape jobs to use in websites and brochures. Most of the photos are of stunning water features, rolling grass and carefully designed stonework... but the photos clearly don't do justice to the work a lot of the time. Since we see the same simple correctable errors in many of the photos, we thought we'd show you how we can take better photos of landscaping jobs when you don't have money for a pro. With a few simple adjustments in how you take photos, you can be taking magazine worthy photos in no time!

Number 1: Tidy up and Clear the Clutter
This rule is the most simple but most often overlooked. The very first thing you should do when you arrive to photograph a job is ensure that there are no visible bags of trash, exposed bright orange extension cords, hose pipes, trash containers, yard debris... etc. laying in sight of your photo. Also if possible have owners move vehicles into the street and close all the garage doors. Also if you're shooting a deck or patio with chairs make sure they're set up nicely around the tables and that there aren't pool toys visible unless you've specifically placed them in the pool for color.

Number 2: Choose Good Lighting
There are three hospitable lighting situations. Very early morning, late afternoon/evening or overcast days. Midday sunny pictures never turn out well. Overhead sun casts lots of ugly shadows and washes colors out. You want those warm rays that are only available in the late afternoon or early morning or the soft even light that is there throughout an overcast day. If you have no choice BUT to use midday light, it's often good to turn on your flash which will fill in the shadows. Taking photos just before dark is also an excellent idea. Turn your camera to it's landscape setting and it'll automatically forfit using the flash. The photo will have a long shutter speed so USE a tripod. Turn the houses lights on for this effect. This is probably the best way to shoot water features as you'll get that long water streaming effect.

Above: Warm late afternoon sun is flattering to landscapes

Above: Overcast days provide nice even light and eliminate
long distracting shadows from structures. Clouds provide a bit of drama too!

Number 3: Straighten the Horizon
Professional photographers always look for the structural lines or horizon line to be parallel with the top/bottom edge of the photos. Especially when you're photographing the house itself it's important to obey this rule.

Number 4: Choose Creative Angles
When you're shooting your landscape it's good to figure out what features you most want to highlight and find the best way to get that into the picture. When I shoot landscapes I often get down on my belly (that's right... I look ridiculous) and shoot with the ground filling the bottom two thirds of my frame. Sometimes it's worth asking the client if you can get up to their second story window to photograph your landscape from above. There is always more than one way of looking at the same scene and it's worth experimenting to find what works best.

Taking photos from ground level can highlight features like rock work
and flowers that would otherwise get lost in the image.

Number 5: Finishing Touches
Rake leaves. Mow the lawn. Seriously... I can't tell you how many people have photos on their websites of yards that have great features but the maintenance is not done. Even if owners don't opt to pay for maintenance it's well worth your while to send a crew out prior to doing photos to get things cleaned up. Your average consumer totally doesn't "get" that you only did that retaining wall and you're not responsible for yard maintenance. They think you did the whole landscape and it's maintenance and when IT looks shabby, YOU look shabby. Another trip I've passed on is to hose down stones and brick work. It brings out colors and gives it a wet slick look that really compliments the landscape. This includes water features and the edge of pools!

Above: Wetting down stone work brings out vibrant colors

Number 6: In Camera Settings and Post Production
It's worth reading your camera manual on how to adjust white balance settings. Putting your camera on "cloudy" or "sunny" will achieve MUCH better color and results. If you don't feel like messing with it, you can buy cost effective photo editing software like Photoshop Elements which you can use to increase saturation or contrast. WARNING: Don't overdo it. Over saturation or cheesy boxed photo effects like spot color or Gaussian blurs DO NOT improve photos. Though there are limited occasions where they work, they usually just make your photos look cheap and not credible. If you can manage the highlights/shadows with your software it's always a good idea to slightly lighten shadows to bright out the details lost in dark parts of your photo. If you're not sure how to do post-processing, ask us - we're able to do limited digital improvements to your photos when we're posting them to your gallery.

Number 7: If You Can Afford it, Hire a Pro
I think really great results are achievable if you follow these steps. The fact of the matter is though, you're an amazing landscaper - and 9 times out of 10 - not an amazing photographer. It's worth it IF you can afford it to hire someone to do things right. You can expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $3000 to get it done right depending on how many sites you're having photographed. Shop around and make sure you see lots of samples of other photos you LOVE by the photographer you pick. AND REMEMBER: just because they take spectacular portraits doesn't mean they know how to shoot landscapes. You need to see samples of their architecture or landscape photography. Here are a few links to sites we've designed that hired a pro... we think the results were worth the investment! True North Landscaping, Green Meadows Landscaping, Let It Grow Inc., G.A. Landscaping Design, Terracare Landscaping

So there you have it! Happy Clicking people!